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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Obesity Epidemic: State- and District-Level Policies Are Leaving Adolescents Behind

As a nation we are concerned about childhood/adolescent obesity and overweight, yet state and district-level policies regarding physical education, physical activity, and nutrition are significantly lacking, especially at the middle and high school level.  Students at the middle and high school level have the highest rates of obesity among all children and adolescents.  Judging by these facts, you would think that more state- and district-level policies would be in place to help counter the growing obesity epidemic among this age-group.  However, a recent publication by the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) titled “Obesity Prevention for Middle and High Schools: Are We Doing Enough?,” reviewed state-level and district-level policies regarding physical activity and nutrition and found a strong paradox: “while adolescents have the highest rates of obesity, are the least physically active, and consume more junk food and sugary beverages, both state- and district-level policies addressing these issues in the school environment are often more frequent and restrictive at the elementary level.  In addition, in many areas, policies are simply not addressing critical components of school nutrition and physical activity at any level.”

The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends that children and adolescents obtain at least 30 minutes of the required 60 minutes per day of physical activity at school.  Despite this guideline, NASBE’s survey found that only three states required time in minutes outside of physical education, only 20% of states had a required time and/or frequency for physical education at the high school level, and only 34% of states requiring physical education at the middle school level had a time frequency requirement.  In addition, no states and only 8% of districts had a high school requirement for a percentage of class time to be spent in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and only 6% of states and 9% of districts had this requirement at a middle school level.  Finally, 82% of states had a high school physical education requirement but 28% of these states had liberal exemption policies.

Regarding nutrition, only three states had policies which aimed at increasing access to fruits and vegetables at the middle and high school level and only three states had a policy restricting food marketing.  In addition, only 22% of states required nutrition standards limiting fats, sugar, calories, and/or portion sizes in middle and high schools.  38% of states and 49% of districts had nutrition standard policies in high schools, 46% of states and 51% of districts had these standards in middle schools, and 50% of states had these standards in elementary schools.  Finally, only three states and 2% of districts had policies at the middle and high school levels that prohibited all sodas (both regular and diet) and all other sugar-sweetened beverages and 30% of states only prohibited regular sugar-sweetened sodas.

All this data brings up one major question: Why aren’t states and districts pushing for more frequent and stronger policies regarding physical activity and nutrition?  After all, we have a growing epidemic on our hands and children and adolescents are at the heart of it.  Currently, an estimated 34% of adolescents are overweight or obese and this trend is only increasing.  If widespread policies are not adopted soon these overweight children and adolescents will become overweight or obese adults, threatened by preventable chronic diseases since “overweight adolescents have a 70% chance of becoming overweight or obese adults.”  While it is true that middle and high schools have many demands including increasing overall student achievement and decreasing drop-out rates, this does not mean that physical activity and nutrition should fall by the wayside.  By placing physical activity and nutrition at the bottom of the priority list, schools may in fact be negatively affecting the overall success of their students since “overweight and obese students are more likely to have greater rates of absenteeism and experience more bullying and teasing, which may affect their academic performance and achievement.”

So, are we actually doing enough?

The answer is No.  Policies and programs addressing middle and high schools need to be more frequent, more restrictive, and required rather than merely suggested.  The promotion of physical activity and nutrition needs to be widespread at all school levels: elementary, middle, and high school.  We may gasp at the obesity problem and encourage children and adolescents to exercise and eat healthfully, but if our policies do not match our message then we are failing the students we intend to serve.

Note: All direct quotes come from NASBE’s May 2010 publication, “Obesity Prevention for Middle and High Schools: Are We Doing Enough?” which can be found here.

Kathryn Burggraf
Tobacco Control Intern
Partnership for Prevention

Posted by: Katie Burggraf at 12:00 AM
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Labels: nutrition, obesity, physicalactivity, schools

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Breastfeeding Boosts Babies’ Immune Systems, Cartoon Characters Selling Unhealthy Foods Named "Best, Worst Prevention Ideas of the Week"

A new study showing that babies who were breast-fed had a lower risk of infections was named the “Best Prevention Idea of the Week,” while children finding foods tastier when their package displays a cartoon was named the “Worst Prevention Idea of the Week."

The “Best/Worst” awards are announced each week in “Prevention Matters,” the blog of Partnership for Prevention. Nominees are submitted by Partnership staff as well as the general public, and are voted on by the staff. Partnership for Prevention is a nonpartisan organization of business, nonprofit and government leaders who are working to make evidence-based disease prevention and health promotion a national priority. More information is available at .


Breast Milk Reduces Infections in Babies



Breast-feeding seems to provide an immune system boost to infants, helping to prevent respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses in babies, according to new research.

Babies who were breast-fed exclusively for 4 months, and then partially until they were 6 months old, had a reduced risk of respiratory and gastrointestinal infections compared to babies who had never been breast-fed, the Dutch team found. "Exclusive breast-feeding reduces respiratory and gastrointestinal infections in infancy," said the study's senior author, Dr. Henriette Moll, a professor of pediatrics at Erasmus Medical Center's Sophia's Children's Hospital in Rotterdam.


Cartoon Characters Sell Kids on Unhealthy Foods

Popular cartoon characters are influencing the taste preferences of very young children, and not in a positive way, a new study suggests. Researchers found that the branding of American food product packaging with characters such as Dora the Explorer drives preschoolers to choose higher-calorie, less healthful foods over more nutritious options.

"The bottom line is that when kids are presented with a choice of graham crackers, fruit snacks or carrots, and the only difference is that one package has a licensed character on it, they actually think that the food with the character tastes better," said study author Christina Roberto, a doctoral student working at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University in New Haven, Conn.

The findings, reported online June 21 in Pediatrics, reflect on the food preferences of 4- to 6-year-old boys and girls who found foods tastier when the packaging bore the likenesses of beloved TV and movie characters.

Posted by: Brian McCue at 12:00 AM
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Labels: advertising, best/worst, breast-feeding, children, diet, infants

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

New Regulations Go Into Effect: The One Year Anniversary of the Tobacco Control Act

A year ago today, June 22, 2009, President Obama signed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (Tobacco Control Act), which places the regulation of tobacco products under the authority of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Under the provisions of this Act, the FDA established the Center for Tobacco Products whose main goals include preventing the initiation of tobacco use among America’s children and adolescents; aiding adults with tobacco cessation; supplying the public with necessary information on the ingredients of tobacco products and the potential harms of using tobacco products; and using the regulation of tobacco products to protect the public from the health burden of tobacco, which is currently the leading cause of preventable disease in the United States.

So what happens today, June 22, 2010?

Today, new restrictions on tobacco product sales and marketing go into effect. These include the banning of descriptors such as “light,” “mild,” and “low” in cigarette and smokeless tobacco labeling and advertisements; larger and more graphic warning labels on smokeless tobacco products and advertisements; and the implementation of the 1996 Rule on Youth Access and Marketing. This rule aims to prevent the use of tobacco related products among America’s youth through regulations that prohibit the sale of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco to minors under federal law; ban tobacco related sponsorships of athletic, social, and other cultural events; and prohibit the sale of cigarette packages with less than twenty cigarettes.

And what should we look for in the future?

In the future the FDA is looking to develop tobacco product standards, regulate the introduction of new tobacco products, and place larger and more graphic warning labels on cigarette packaging and advertisements. Until then, the FDA urges states and localities to continue implementing tobacco taxes, smoke-free laws, funding for tobacco prevention and cessation, and coverage for smoking cessation services – all of which have proven to be effective in controlling the use of tobacco.

As Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, President and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation explains, “Tobacco use is a contributing factor to dozens of diseases and conditions that impact American and accounts for $96 billion each year in health care costs. This groundbreaking legislation is a big investment in prevention that will help all Americans lead healthier lives.”

Read more about the Tobacco Control Act’s One Year Anniversary by clicking here.

Kathryn Burggraf
Tobacco Control Intern
Partnership for Prevention

Posted by: Kathryn Burggraf at 12:00 AM
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Labels: FDA, tobaccocontrol

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